Have Scrap Metal Thieves Met Their Match?

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Humor, Non-ferrous Metals

Metal prices continue rising, as emerging economies grow (enter copper, steel, aluminum) and established economies wane (hello, gold and silver), so it only follows that scrap metal is commanding a greater premium too. We’ve all heard about the grandma in Georgia by now the country, not the state who cut off the Internet to neighboring nations while allegedly rooting around for copper scrap.

Well, here’s a story you may not have heard about. In early April, thieves broke into a museum in Montgomery County, Md., just outside Washington, DC, over the weekend. They had brass on their mind, and stole 5 sculptures made of the metal. The museum reported these sculptures missing to the police on the following Monday, and afterward, an employee from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) heard the report on the radio. That same night, ISRI employees posted an alert of their own for the missing bronzes, and hardly 24 hours later, the Montgomery Scrap Company notified police that the metal was in their possession. (Evidently, the thieves had purposely damaged the sculptures; otherwise the scrap company would’ve figured it out sooner.)

This might not have happened so quickly or at all if it wasn’t for ISRI’s online alert system, ScrapTheftAlert.com. Created several years ago, this system allows for a virtual dialogue with scrapyards and local law enforcement, making for a much more efficient process in tracking stolen scrap not to mention the criminals. (The Montgomery Scrap Company had the thief’s driver’s license on hand, which helped the police expedite his arrest warrant.) ScrapTheftAlert.com is a free web site that “allows police to send detailed descriptions of stolen items to recycling operations and other law enforcement within a 100-plus mile radius of a theft.  The system also allows scrap processors to alert law enforcement when they are offered suspicious materials at the scrap yard, according to an ISRI press release.

When you visit the site, you can browse reports within 100 miles of a particular zip code, search reports by state, and report material thefts directly. Also, on the right hand side is a running counter of the most recent alerts. On the day I visited, there was a “theft of batteries in South Bay, Fla., and a “large amount of Brass plate being sold in Tampa on May 4, an alert for “SCE&G Copper wire on Spools in Florence, SC, and “Theft of scrap aluminum, copper and insulated copper wire in Hatfield, Penn., on May 3.

According to ISRI, the system currently has over 7,000 subscribers, and nearly 2,500 law enforcement professionals in the U.S. and Canada are registered to use it.

ScrapTheftAlert.com is just one tool used in fighting scrap theft and unlawful sales. Go to their site if your company has had issues with this growing problem, and research more ways to combat it at www.isri.org/theft. Unless the commodity bubble bursts and crashes for good, higher metal prices will keep illegal scrap activity a bustling business.

–Taras Berezowsky

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